Valley communities celebrate Cinco de Mayo

mrowland@modbee.comMay 12, 2013 

    alternate textMarijke Rowland
    Title: Arts & Entertainment Writer
    Coverage areas: Fine arts, pop culture and other entertainment throughout the Central Valley and foothills.
    Bio: Marijke Rowland has been a reporter at The Bee for 15 years. She grew up in the Midwest and has a degree in journalism from Indiana University. She has covered several beats at The Bee from education to entertainment to employment.
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From barbecues in back yards to flags hanging off the backs of trucks, church fairs to arena concerts, Modesto-area residents celebrated Cinco de Mayo in a variety of ways Sunday.

The holiday, which commemorates the Mexican army's 1862 victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, has grown into a largely mainstream celebration in the United States.

While some mistake the day for Mexican Independence Day — which is Sept. 16 — and others use it as an excuse to party, Cinco de Mayo for many is all about heritage and family.

At the La Gran D 94.3 FM Cinco de Mayo concert at the Stanislaus County Fairground, mariachi and banda music filled the arena. An early crowd of a few hundred gathered in the afternoon to listen, with about 3,000 expected to attend in the evening.

The event moved to the fairground last year after spending several years at Tuolumne River Regional Park. Gerardo Martinez, general manager at the Spanish- language station, said the festivities cater to its largely Latino audience.

"Our goal is to provide entertainment to families for the Hispanic community," he said. "Very few events cater solely to the Hispanic market here. We use this as an event for the Hispanic community to get together and celebrate our heritage."

Vendor booths offered Mexican food and Mexican flags to the crowd, which ranged from couples with gray hair to families with children and groups of twentysomethings. Corporate sponsors sold products, such as Bud Light Straw-Ber-Ritas and Clamato Cheladas.

At a smaller celebration in Modesto, One Church on Scenic Drive (formerly known as Bethel Church) held its first Cinco de Mayo festival. More than 100 people gathered — many from the congregation and neighborhood families — for the free event, which offered food, children's activities, live mariachi music and lucha libre-inspired wrestling.

Day of family fun

Husband-and-wife co-pastor team Kyle and Marcia Bethke wanted to offer an alcohol-free alternative for revelers. Although their congregation of about 400 is not largely Latino, Kyle Bethke said the day should be a chance to enjoy family fun together.

"It's good for people to have fun and laugh," he said.

The One Church event included hot pepper- and burrito-eating contests, as well as piñatas for the kids.

Modesto resident Melissa Duran came with her family because her 6-year-old daughter heard about the event at her nearby school, Sonoma Elementary. Duran said her family doesn't ordinarily celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

"Nowadays, Cinco de Mayo for whatever reason has turned into a drinking holiday for young people," Duran said. "So this is nice, something you can bring kids to for the day instead."

Back at the fairground in Turlock, Martinez said the holiday's crossover appeal can be a positive.

"It's always an opportunity for people to get a glimpse of our culture," he said. "We're the largest ethnic minority in the state and country. This gives us a chance to put our best face on and celebrate our heritage."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on

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